Bringing a new path of hope to people with brain development disorders is Dr. Gina Turrigiano and her team at Brandeis University. They demonstrated for the first time in a live animal that the brain has a “thermostat” that maintains a balance of excitement. When it gets too excited a system exists to tone down the firing rate of the neurons or vice versa. This discovery has implications in brain disorder conditions in which the balance is lost in psychiatric conditions like autism where the brain does not get excited enough, or epilepsy in which the brain gets too excited. The brain’s “thermostat” keeps the neurons on an even keel even as they change in response to learning, development or environment factors. This thermostat worked even when the animal was awake or asleep. Read the original article published in the journal Neuron as the cover article on October 16, 2013 by clicking here.
Dr. Turrigiano says that if scientists can figure out how these set points are built, then researchers may be able to adjust them and bring the brains of people suffering from such disorders back into balance.
Dr. Gina Turrig1ano, was conferred the 2012 HFSP Nakasone award, McArthur Foundation award and the NIH Director’s Pioneering award for her pioneering work and introduction of the term “synaptic scaling”. The concept is that the developing and fully developed brain has inbuilt mechanisms that allow balancing the need for plasticity. It allows the brain to enable learning and development while maintaining the stability and integrity of the circuits that drive behavior.
Work in her lab has shown that neurons can “tune” themselves and scale down excitement or vice versa. However, this concept of “synaptic scaling” or thermostat control had never been observed in a life animal until now.